I am 38 and my live-in boyfriend is 35. We have lived together for almost 8 years. In all of that time, he has always signed over his paychecks to me because he has proven that he cannot be financially responsible. He did this with no complaints whatsoever because he admits that he handles money poorly. He was happy to let me take care of the finances, and so was I. We share a joint checking account and each of us has a debit card. I keep his card until he needs it and then he gives it right back to me for safekeeping. I do all the budgeting and pay all of our bills.
We got into credit card debt (they were in my name only) over the years and I got it all squared away with consumer credit counseling. We have been living on a cash basis for a full year. . . or so I thought.
I've always had the stable job. BF is a chef and he's had a series of jobs. I'll say from the get go that he is an extremely hard worker; he's not lazy or a slacker and for that I am proud. So imagine my happiness when he finally gets a head chef position for a sorority at a college nearby. He LOVED it.
Finally, a job that's worthy of him and his skills. That lasted for one year. He was fired because the company he worked for wanted him to sign an employment contract that was even more restrictive and one-sided than the one he initially signed. On the advice of his attorney, he didn't sign it. So he's been helping our farmer neighbors, being a handyman, feeding cattle, that sort of thing. They have been paying him an hourly wage, which is fine by me. My only requirement is that he's employed and contributes to the household financially and not sponge off me.
The sorority house wants him back on a private basis, not through the company. They want him to bid for the position. However, BF has been saying for years that he wants to go into cattle farming. He has renewed this wish and has already applied for a gov't grant. He says he will continue to be paid by our farmer neighbors in the interim. I am irate; we've both suffered and worked hard for 8 years for him to find a good kitchen gig and now he wants to change careers? I call shenanigans! Not fair! I am ashamed to admit that at one point I told him it was either farming or me. I admit that I put him under an immense amount of pressure.
Imagine my surprise and disgust when I pick up the mail one day and find out that he has two credit cards in his name! The balances equaled about $1,200.00. I was hurt, humiliated, embarrassed, and ashamed. He lied to me on all levels. Some of the money he was "'paid" by our farmer neighbors was actually a cash advance on his credit card. Also, he bought lots of tools for his new farming career and used these cards to purchase them. He lied about all of this, made up stories on how he got the tools, etc.
I told him I was leaving him. Sure, because of the debt he piled up, but first and foremost because he LIED. Here I swallowed my pride and went to consumer credit counseling, was doing without many things because we were living on a cash only basis, clutching my calculator in one hand, and my coupons in the other while at the grocery store, telling him how proud I was of us for living a year credit free, and he's lying to me the whole time.
He said he was scared to tell me because he didn't want me to worry about where the money was coming from, and that he'd take care of it. He also said it was "normal" to have credit card debt, in spite of the fact that I am working so hard to get out of it. He also called me a money Nazi (which is accurate: I'm extremely anal about budgeting and maintaining good credit). I controlled everything he did. He couldn't even buy a pack of cigs without asking me for the debit card first.
I told him to fess up to any other cards he has because I was going to find out in any event. He said those two were the only cards he had. Of course, I didn't believe him. I log onto his account and find that he has another one. The balance is about 8K. I almost got physically ill when I saw this. He said he got the last card because he thought it was over between us and he thought, "what the hey?" (The dates do coincide with the timing of everything). He admits he went on a "shopping spree" and was very selfish and was only thinking about himself. He also told me he had a little mini mid-life crisis and he said it felt so good to spend that money. I told him that while he was on his shopping spree, did he think about how we need a new dryer? A new bed? New doors for our house?
After my bemoaning the fact that he did not purchase anything for the "family," he goes out and maxes out his credit card and buys us a home computer. At this point, I am at a loss for words and told him that something is wrong with him.
I'm angry, depressed and feel totally disrespected. In spite of all of this, he does a lot for me and I still love him like crazy. But I'm so tired of being the stable one and taking care of everything. For once it'd be nice to have a man who could provide for me. I feel like his mother and I admit, I act like one.
Is the writing on the wall? Or should I hang on? How do I get over this rage I feel toward him? I'm seriously thinking about getting to a therapist to unload. Every time I look at him, I want to punch him in the face.
Signed, Angry Almost-Mother
Dear Angry Almost-Mother,
You and your boyfriend are both contributing problems to your relationship.
He has a money problem, and it won’t be fixed when he gets a better job. He simply doesn’t understand the need to be fiscally responsible and live within his means. He is correct when he says living with a little debt is common, but his track record seems to indicate that when left to his own devices, he will create an unmanageable level of debt. He has an unrealistic optimism about his ability to “take care of it” in the future, despite not having a realistic plan for doing so.
He also has an honesty problem. You are right to be concerned that he is so willing to lie to you, and has done so repeatedly.
You have a control problem. It is not normal for a girlfriend to control every penny her boyfriend spends and tell him what job he has to choose. I can understand how he would feel controlled, manipulated, and emasculated by your tight leash on his life.
You use his poor money management skills as justification for why it is okay to be so controlling, and to a limited extent I can see this. It’s not bad for one partner to step up and say, “Look, we’re having money problems. I’m good with money. Why don’t I track the funds for a while and see if we can get this under control?” That’s fine, but you controlling his every penny can’t be your ongoing life strategy. He is an adult and at some point he has to act like one when it comes to money or you will continue to have serious issues between you. Also, after getting the money situation under control, you need to loosen your grip on his life or you will never have the kind of relationship that both of you need. He needs some autonomy and you need someone to step up for you.
He uses your controlling ways as justification for lying and spending to excess. He doesn’t want to upset you, so he lies -- sorry, that one doesn’t cut it. He figures you won’t be around to control him any more, so he might as well spend himself into debt jail -- this is an indication that he lacks the skills and self-control to manage finances effectively.
No amount of control on your part is going to give him good money habits. Talking to a debt counselor can help him learn about effective management strategies, but at the fundamental level he has to make a decision for himself that he wants to keep his money under control. He doesn’t yet understand how damaging excessive debt can be and he is simply not afraid of it. Unless he learns this for himself, you two will always have a serious issue between you.
The same is true of your controlling ways. The two of you will have issues until you decide you want to share life on roughly a 50-50 give-and-take basis. If you do that right now, however, he is likely to implode financially and take you with him. He has also damaged your love and trust by lying to you.
Your path to regaining the love and trust lies through him. If he wants to get back in your good books, he will have to step up and demonstrate consistent responsibility, restraint, maturity, and honesty. He needs to prove all of this over a period of time so your hurt and anger can dissipate.
Given the story you told, I’m not sure how likely that is to happen.
Whether you are with him or another guy, I urge you to work toward curbing your controlling ways. You will be happier when you are with a man you can trust ... and you act that way by allowing him to live his own life as the other half of your relationship.
All the best,